Background: This brief pamphlet was published by the OKW, the Supreme Command of the Nazi army. It was aimed at officers in charge of training new recruits, who were to receive political as well as military training, and be prepared to resist enemy propaganda they might encounter in the field. It is interesting that the brochure gives little practical advice.
The source: Dr. Ellenbeck, Der Offizier als Führer im Kampf gegen die feindliche Propaganda (OKW, January 1943).
We experience today a period in the history of our nation, indeed of nearly all the major nations of the world, that is filled with powerful movements. Knowing that they are living amidst great events and decisions, the German people has realized that it is living at a time in which history itself is changing. We cannot understand our era by comparing it with what came before. Not continuity, but revolution is the mark of the age. A new chapter in German history was written, and is being written. The battle for political and economic supremacy is only part of the struggle between the nations of the earth. The core of the German struggle for freedom is to mold the spiritual and moral face of our part of the planet according to our will.
But not only Germany and its allies, not only the nations of Europe and Japan, are fighting for a new order. Our enemies, too, have proclaimed wide goals. The president of the United States claims that the twentieth century will be the American century. Stalin’s program is world Bolshevist revolution. England is fighting for its centuries-old world empire.
An earthquake is shaking the nations of the world and demanding their full efforts.
The decisive question is which leaders are able best to use their army and people, weapons and economy, which can best give the ideas that fill and drive their people with the greatest force.
An army fights an army, a weapon a weapon, an economy an economy, an attitude an attitude. The results of an army, an armaments industry and an economy are determined by the attitude of each individual soldier, each individual armaments worker, as well as the entire nation. This world war is in essence a war of character.
War leaders therefore have to make the spiritual goals and meaning of this war clear, to call on all the character strengths of the German people, to intensify them, and to protect the army and people against the enemy’s attempt to undermine their character.
The enemy knows what is at stake. Thus he has used since the beginning, and to an ever growing degree, all the means of demoralization and poisoning, hoping to win the character war. Spiritual war leadership succeeds when it destroys the effectiveness of enemy propaganda and, to the day of victory, builds an unbroken, clear strength of character in the soldiers.
To recognize these facts is not difficult for German officers, since the experiences of the First World War are still in everyone’s memory. But understanding is only the first step. We must face the central challenge of this war. On 10 March 1940, the Führer said that in the hour that Providence weighs the worth of the nations, soldiers stand before the face of God Almighty to represent their nations. The result of this test is the critical question. Mastering the task of spiritual leadership demands the full use of our intellectual resources, because this part of the total war is fought against a clever and unscrupulous enemy. But understanding and knowledge are not enough to win on this battlefield. The deeper we sense the forces of this war, the more we see that the chaotic and order-loving forces of this world have entered a decisive battle, the more clearly we sense that it requires the whole man if the result is to be what it must be. In this fourth winter of the war, the will, devotion and energy of each officer who is not at present at the front must stand with burning passion alongside the heroic soldiers at the front.
We live in a revolutionary era. The earth is moving. Bourgeois thinking with its expectation of comfort, rights, peacetime life, a reasonable work tempo, a regard for appropriate wishes, of a life that follows a normal and settled routine, all this is not appropriate; it is a crime against our nation, a betrayal of the front and a way of sabotaging victory.
Fate’s warning bells are ringing. People are needed who are wide awake. It is life or death. That is no propaganda phrase, but rather an historical fact of deadly seriousness. No officer is worthy of wearing the insignia on his shoulder, no officer is worthy to be part of the leadership of the Germany army, who does not realize the seriousness of the situation. It must burn into the depths of his soul, he must prove in his work every day that he is dedicated to this total war with all his being, because he knows that the war will determine not only his personal fate, but the fate of everything.
The nineteenth century did not solve the problem of human leadership. It left it to us, under the symbol of National Socialism, to do that which was sensed, even in part recognized as crucial, but not accomplished. We lost the First World War because the leadership of our 65 million people did not succeed in building a unified will. Today as well human leadership is primarily a domestic task of the government. Since, however, during war a larger and particularly important part of the German people is entrusted to the officer corps, military-spiritual leadership is a particularly vital task for us officers. And last but not least, each of an officer’s actions reaches deep into the nation. There is hardly a German family that does not have a family member who is a soldier. His family members share his joy in service, his confidence, his clarity of aim and devotion. A German officer’s circle of responsibility was never as great as in this first truly total war.
A brief historical survey will make the nature of the task still clearer. Four generations have come and gone since the wars of liberation, the first modern national wars. When the people rose and the storm broke, Napoleon’s army was driven from Katzbach to Waterloo and destroyed. It was the first time our nation experienced the age of total war. The spiritual collapse after Jena and Auerstädt made it clear that the times were past in which “the peaceful citizen should not know if the king were waging war.” The people’s army was born, and its soldiers were freed from dishonorable penalties. Now, each brave and diligent German soldier could become an officer. “All former class privileges ceased in the military, and everyone had the same duties and rights, regardless of his origins.”
In the years of decision, the whole nation joined with the people’s army to sacrifice for honor and freedom. The German people learned that they could not be defeated when they were united in fighting for high ideals.
The German nation then was essentially an agricultural nation. Its social and political systems were relatively uncomplicated. The leadership did not yet need to train large masses politically and spiritually, bringing them to a common will. But a century later, the ten million people of 1813 had become 65 million. And the nation that fought for its existence in 1924 had undergone a major structural change. Its spiritual leadership had become a problem of great significance.
In the preceding century, technology had rolled across the German people like an avalanche. A great migration had brought people from the farming provinces to the rapidly growing cities. People began to cluster in areas where coal and iron was in the earth, which encouraged industrial development. The cities lured people with the civilization they had to offer. But nothing could replace what was being lost in inner culture. The number of people to whom the word Fatherland has lost its holy meaning was growing, because they had lost the living, blood-related connection to the soil of their fathers, which blessed labor with daily bread. Fate took its course. Among the growing millions, ever more people fell into a skeptical materialistic approach to life. The national state, created by Bismarck’s genius, seemed more and more foreign to them.
The two great systems of the nineteenth century, nationalism and socialism, became seen as antitheses. A synthesis seemed impossible. The nationalists and socialists stood in separate camps, each seeing the other as the enemy of its political aims and desires.
At the same time, the spirit of the Enlightenment affected parts of the upper class, producing an individualism that separated the individual from the nation and the common good. The result was a falsely understood ruling class that claimed for itself economically, socially and finally ethically the right to brutally impose its will.
The materialization of the masses of workers was opposed by an egotistic and mercantile thinking, which led Bismarck to say that in the end the battle between the two groups was to determine who had the key to the safe. Still, soldierly thinking and a sense of duty kept the core of the population from sinking entirely into materialistic thinking.
But there were danger signals enough. The Jews were emancipated in the middle of the century. Wide portions of those who had become detached from their homeland fell under their political influence. The Jew Marx wrote a new doctrine of salvation. At first it made only economic and social demands, but Marxism became a grave danger as it succeeded in corrupting the loyalty to people and land at a critical hour.
The officer corps was not yet thinking much about this situation. There were no cracks in the army. That was not surprising, for the German was always happy to be a soldier, and a well-led military unit is always an example of living socialism. The officer was inclined to view Marxist and liberal-capitalist thinking as more or less economic matters that had nothing to do with soldiers. The people of the day had not yet realized that total unity in thinking and moral outlook is an absolute requirement for a nation.
The Enlightenment and liberalism had confused and corrupted people’s judgment on the hard laws of nature. Captive to mercantile thinking, they drew the false conclusion that the twentieth century would be the century of the economy. Germany’s economic progress was seen as an isolated phenomena. People forgot Moltke’s prophetic words after the war of 1870: there would be a battle for the existence and freedom of the Reich in 50 years. People hoped and believed that the nations had been brought together by culture and civilization, art and science, economics and commerce so that the era of great wars was over. 40 years of peace seemed to confirm this. So strong was this opinion that even while the storm clouds were gathering during the last decades of the century, tens of thousands of men were not called to military service because there was no money approved. There were warnings, but they were not heard. General Ludendorff was posted to the provinces. There was no general of equal ability to replace him.
The German people, still decent at the core, thus entered the modern age burdened with illusions about the eternal laws that guide human history, and burdened with the theory of an unsuccessful inner unity of 65 million Germans. Fate next threatened us with a gigantic struggle that called into question to our very existence.
The leadership of the day did not recognize the need for total war leadership during this struggle for freedom. The war was first viewed as simply a military problem. The economy was not mobilized. Soon fate demonstrated that the battle for agricultural self-sufficiency had been lost over the past decades. Nor was there a unified mobilization of spiritual life. In many areas of life, Marxist and Jewish writers could carry on their work unhindered in a way that aided the enemy.
The Socialism displayed for people and fatherland at the front was unique. The German army won immortal fame. But the liberal economy and liberal spiritual life opened breaches that finally led to collapse.
That became more evident as the role of technology in the army increased. The armaments industry became ever more important in the war effort. And now the bill from the nineteenth century came due. Strikes in the armaments industry during winter 1917-1918 paved the way for 9 November 1918.
From the first day of the war, the enemy used propaganda as well as weapons to wage war. He knew the weak places in the German national organism. Horror propaganda attacked German soldiers and the German people to the entire world. Its subversive propaganda sought to drive a wedge between the political leadership and the people, which was not that difficult to do under the circumstances, and in the end it was successful. Hate propaganda tried to break the confidence between officer and soldier. This did not succeed at the front, but elsewhere it was successful.
The officer corps neither recognized nor properly evaluated the danger of the enemy propaganda war. Neither in school nor at the universities did they receive the knowledge they needed to properly understand psychological war leadership. There was no real psychological war leadership in the army. As a result, even though it was urgently necessary, officers could not provide spiritual training and leadership for their troops. Late in 1918, the army was betrayed by the spirit of defeatism that destroyed the fruit of years of hard battle and sacrifice.
No German officer may forget the terrible lesson history taught us then: propaganda is a crucial weapon in modern warfare. The officer must be able to destroy this weapon of the enemy and make his own troops immune against its attacks. This battle is just as important as combat itself at the front!
Since fate taught the German people this bitter lesson in 1918, things have progressed even further. The enemy propaganda war that England above all fought between 1914 and 1918, and Soviet Russia after 1917, was a serious matter. But the enemy efforts of that period in the area of the character war pale in comparison to the enormous efforts and comprehensive measures of the united Bolshevist and English-American propaganda of today.
Consider the following:
1. English-American robber capitalism had plans that led to the First World War. In the fifteen years after the Treaty of Versailles, they continued to carry these plans out. The aim was to eliminate Germany as an economic competitor, reducing it to a tribute-paying colony whose workers served enemy capitalism. Think of our country’s condition in 1932, oppressed by 69 billion gold marks in reparations, flooded with foreign capital, with a ruined and exploited economy, a third of its working men unemployed and another third working only part time. International Jewish world capital had nearly achieved its goal.
The National Socialist revolution put an end to this campaign against the German national welfare. These powers have hated the Führer ever since.
2. In 1918, Bolshevism was essentially only a spiritual force, headed by a relatively small leadership clique. In the quarter century since then, the Soviet people armed to an enormous degree and were filled with Marxist-Bolshevist thinking. They viewed the German, the Occidental, the European as their deadly enemy who had to be destroyed to clear the path for world revolution. It is not necessary to name the names of those behind Bolshevist power. The important thing to know that what Stalin attempted to do, and did do, with the people he ruled, stands as the greatest imaginable antithesis to German nature. Bolshevism organized the chaotic forces of the world, a mechanistic, materialistic outlook thought up by Jewish brains. Their victory would destroy the very soul of the world, its life, it would crush all the moral values that our people have fought for and built over the centuries.
3. The invention and spread of radio has greatly increased the reach of a modern propaganda war since 1919. Hundreds of transmitters broadcast to the battlefield in dozens of languages. Day and night, the enemy attempts to broadcast subversive thoughts to German territory, trying to have the same success on this battlefield and in the character war that they had in 1918.
Each officer must understand the war over the ether waves. He must understand the enemy’s goals and tactics. He must be resolved to win in this area of total war too. Only then will the German officer corps have understood the signs of the time and be ready to meet the demands of this war.
4. Spengler’s familiar book predicted the decline of the West in 1918. The events up until 1932 seemed to confirm his pessimistic prognosis.
The miracle of our day is that the genius of the Führer succeeded within in a brief historical moment in filling the German national organism of the German realm with a stream of new strength, to make the nation strong, to risk the great war for freedom, and to succeed, this despite a hate-filled environment and a people that was apparently hopelessly fragmented and demoralized.
The Führer accomplished this unique historical deed by confronting the idea of Bolshevism and the idea of Jewish capitalism’s world claims with the idea of National Socialism. The ideal the Führer proclaimed made Germany’s rebirth possible. The logic of history forces the enemy to wage a war of ideas to destroy this new Germany. They want to destroy our ideals of honor and freedom, our faith in the invincibility of the National Socialist people’s community. They know that only then can they achieve victory.
The strategic goal is the same as in 1918: the destruction of the German people. It is the goal that Clemenceau expressed in his regret that there were 20 million too many of us. It is the goal that the Frenchman Bainville had in mind when he said that, in view of the irresistible strength of our people, one should break us up. It is that aim that Churchill threatened in 1936 — consider the date 1936 well! — when he said that since Germany was becoming strong, it must be destroyed. It is the goal Roosevelt had when he instructed his ambassador Bullitt to prepare the way for a European war. It is the goal the Jew Kaufmann (sic) had when he suggested sterilization and that other enemies wanted to carry out by stealing our children. It is the goal of Bolshevism, which wants to destroy the ruling culture of the Occident just as it destroyed that of its own land and in the areas to the West that it occupied in 1939 and 1940.
It is a declaration of war against German life as such, against everything that makes life worth living in the highest and best sense. The enemy hates the richness of our creative thought, our will, our great plans and courage, the productive breadth of the German spirit. Here, too, we see the totality of the war! There can be no compromises or half measures. All of German life is in the balance. Freedom is the goal of our struggle, which today holds it in narrow bounds.
The goal of the enemy’s poisonous war is to split and destroy us. Thus they seek to drive wedge between party and people, between party and the military, between the military and the SS, between the military and the people, between the officer and the soldier. It does not matter where the focus of the enemy attack may be at the moment; it affects each of us. We must understand this. It is one for all and all for one. Regardless of whether the poison is directed at the party or the SS, the Wehrmacht must fight back as if it were aimed at it. If enemy propaganda attacks the officers, it is at the same time an attack on the party or the state, indeed against the whole nation. A broad view of this war must keep in mind that the attack is directed against the unity of the whole German people, and that our task therefore is to guard and strengthen that unity.
The enemy attempts to spread his propaganda over the ether. He conceals some of his stations as German underground stations, he uses the power of rumor, he spreads leaflets and newspapers, he lies, he deceives, he incites, he raises doubts, he threatens, he promises — but whatever he does, he is always the enemy. That is what we must see, that is what we must deal with. Total war does not allow us to even consider the message of enemy propaganda. If the law says that he who listens to enemy broadcasts is a criminal, we must view him as a rabid dog. There may be no compassion, no bourgeois thinking, no false pity, no hesitation, no lack of civil courage. He who absorbs the enemy’s poison is a threat. He who spreads it, even if only in private conversation, becomes an agent of the enemy and therefore an enemy of his people.
We do not need to spend much time on this point with decent people. But avoiding foreign stations, rejecting whisper propaganda, and turning in or destroying enemy leaflets is only the first step.
Psychological defense requires positive action. We must present ours soldiers with the meaning and goals of this war, with the great lines of our history, our battle for freedom, and we must do this with a passion that will make them immune to any threat to their morale.
How do we make our soldiers really immune to enemy propaganda? How do we make each one an active propagandist for the German people’s struggle for freedom in their letters to home and in their conversations while on leave?
We may not lay out a fine-sounding program that looks good in theory but does not work in practice. What is possible, given the brief training period during the war, and in view of the numerous other tasks? What can and must be done to achieve the goals of military-spiritual warfare? This cannot be done by a list of commandments or a training course. It is matter of fundamental attitude, of the proper outlook, of attention to and affirmation of the situation and requirements of this war. Here are some thoughts:
Even in units of new recruits, there must be time to speak about the political questions of the day. The period must be carefully thought out and prepared such that it is a high point of the week. The officer must realize that it is one thing to speak of the usual military matters, something entirely different to speak to his soldiers about the general situation. When he speaks of military matters, he is the expert who speaks from his experience, and from whom the recruits have something to learn that is new to them. When he speaks of current events, it is entirely different. Fate makes the same claims on him as it does on his men. In speaking of the Wehrmacht report, of the struggle against enemy propaganda, or on questions of attitudes toward the war, he is speaking of the burning issues that face the nation. The outcome of the war will affect not only the fate of his soldiers and their families, but also the fate of the officer and his family. Officer and soldier face the same fate. That must spur the soldier on. He must feel close to his lieutenant because he realizes that they have the same fate, that victory for him as well as for the officer is the question of all questions.
Instruction on the high military ideals and the war situation is not an isolated event. No how well prepared the officer is, no matter how well he speaks, he will have no impact if his whole bearing and conduct are not consistent with the ideals he speaks of. A recruit who has been shouted at all week will not believe an officer who talks about the war’s moral demands at the end of the week. An officer who preaches of the bond between officer and soldiers in the face of the enemy, but does not care about his men, or who does not interfere when his subordinates treat them poorly, will find deaf ears. Eager service and devotion cannot be taught or preached; they are the result of experience. If the morale of a unit is high, the men will do what has to be done, no matter how difficult, because a healthy young German always is happy to have his strength increase. There is a very clear line between toughness and affection on the one hand and coarseness and brutality on the other. An officer must understand the difference. But not all realize how much they fail in their duty when they choose the latter instead of the former. There are certainly officers who say that that was how it was when they were recruits, so why should their men have it any better. There is no more stupid excuse than that. It is stupid not only because more has to happen in the shorter training period we have during this fourth year of war than during two years of training during peace. More than that, progress would be impossible under such conditions. That would be like rejecting the oil lamp because people had gotten along for centuries with torches.
The unique aspect of total war is that it demands complete unity even in human leadership. That which the soldier experiences in his duty must be consistent with National Socialist idealism.
How does one conduct a talk on political questions? One must always begin with an overview of the war situation. Most recruits will at best have scanned the Wehrmacht report, if they have even had time for that at all. In a few weeks, however, the places it mentions, the fronts it mentions, will be of vital importance to the recruits, though they are but names today. There they will fight, and perhaps die. They must understand the military situation. If there is no map available, use a chalkboard. Or one can assign a few recruits in advance to look over the map of one country or another, and tell their comrades what is going on.
Of course no one may miss a lecture about the military situation or current political events, certainly not one of the teachers. This is not some abstract matter, but rather the fate of each recruit is being decided out there. It is good to remember that at least once each week. It will help him to find the right tone when he deals with his recruits in the office or before or after duty.
The military situation can be handled in 15 or 20 minutes. An important part of this total war is to refer to enemy propaganda. The Mitteilungen für die Truppe carries regular examples of the enemy’s activities. It takes only three minutes to read an example. Commentary is hardly necessary, since these things speak for themselves. The recruit who hears eight or ten such examples from his lieutenant, and is told that they are typical of what the enemy does, will not easily forget it. He will know what to do when he later somehow comes in contact with such propaganda.
There is still fifteen minutes or half an hour left. If the officer does not have a matter that he particularly wants to deal with, he can find more than enough ideas in Mitteilungen für die Truppe. However, an hour that begins with a discussion of the military situation may not end with a variety of abstract matters that reduce the effectiveness of the first half hour. It is good to schedule this session at the end of the week so that the weekend and its time for relaxation follows, and the impact of what the recruits have heard will echo through into Sunday.
The officer who does not do this task well does not only fail a critical part of his leadership duties, but also misses a particularly good opportunity to build bonds with his men.
Some brief remarks on the spirit of the unit. Some think that because a hard war demands hard training, it is impossible in practice to develop the idealism and eagerness we speak of here. What a mistake! If we had slaves to drill, they certainly would not enjoy it. We German officers, however, have the good fortune to train young German National Socialists who have military service in their blood. We need only to draw on the best resources of our people to succeed. Granted, there are some duds among our recruits. But most of them need only to be treated properly to draw out their best. They will welcome the day’s training if the officer has the right words for his men in the morning. But they must see the inner drive and light of a passionate and noble soul. That is what is crucial.
The regularity of drill, the constant change of the men, and the battle against occasional negative elements brings with it the danger of lapsing into routine. Instead of passionate education and training sessions, they lapse into dead routine and joyless drills. The officer must be aware of this danger, too. The evidence is that in the barracks, there is only shouting, screaming and threats. Then the officer can only say that he has failed.
Not only for reasons of completeness, but also because of its importance, we must remember that the officer is responsible for what happens between waking and duty hours, and after duty to the next morning. He cannot say that he is off duty and away from the barracks. At the front an officer is on duty day and night. It is no different with the recruits. The word “officer” means that one is sworn to do one’s duty. And that never ends.
The German officer who has the confidence of men ready to do whatever he orders them to do has an effect on hundreds of German families. What the young soldier writes home is important. It is critical for the morale of the German people and for the ability of each father and mother to resist foreign propaganda. The longer the war lasts, the more confidence they must have in the German officer corps.
The enemy may spread whatever poisonous ideas they want. They will not shake the sworn community of the army and the people. “Sworn community” is no empty concept. It exists wherever each of us daily asks if his actions contribute to such a community, and demands that we fulfill the tasks that the Führer gave us when he presented us with the insignia of the German officer.
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